Minnesota's deep philosophical differences over health reform flared to the surface Tuesday, when Gov. Mark Dayton accused a leading Senate Republican of blocking $25 million in federal grants aimed at sick, disabled and elderly residents.
The legislator, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, promptly called the governor's comments "irrational'' and said he was merely exercising legitimate legislative oversight of public money.
In morning remarks to reporters, Dayton said Hann had exercised a little-known power on the Legislative Advisory Commission to block Minnesota from pursuing the federal funds. He called Hann's action an "outrageous abuse of an individual legislator's power'' and said in the decade that such authority has existed, he knows of no other case where a legislator took such action.
Three hours later Hann responded that he has unanswered questions about the grants and their purpose, and that, in any case, Dayton still has emergency authority to pursue them.
"I'm being criticized for just doing my job," Hann said. "The information I got was inadequate" to determine who precisely would benefit and if the federal grants might require state spending later. Agency officials said Tuesday that no additional state spending would be needed.
Tuesday's exchange threw a spotlight on a partisan dispute that has been simmering quietly at the Capitol for months.
Hann, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has been particularly acerbic in criticizing Dayton for embracing the 2010 federal health care overhaul.
In the latest flap, Hann, as a member of the Legislative Advisory Commission, which reviews expenditures and grants between legislative sessions, asked for "further review" of eight federal grant applications.
Dayton and Hann seemed unable to agree on the impact of Hann's action, the work under the affected grants, or even the amount of money at risk.
Dayton said the amount was $25 million over five years. Hann said commissioners of Human Services and of Health told him that the total was $60 million over three years, that most of the money would go to pay staff and none would go directly for care of Minnesotans, and that nobody's health would be at risk without the money.
Among the services to be funded were electronic diagnosis reporting for children with cancer; tobacco and obesity programs for people with chronic diseases; home-based services for aging veterans; and lower-cost alternatives for people with Alzheimer's disease.
The effect of Hann's letter is to hold up and possibly jeopardize the grants, Dayton said. He said he would resubmit the request under an "urgency" clause.
Hann said if the governor does that, he will convene his Senate committee to consider the grants, but acknowledged that his action "won't stop the governor. It will just focus a little light of day" on the grants.